‘Facts of Life’ Star Lisa Whelchel Explains Why One Notable Co-Star Was Missing from Special

by Josh Lanier

Anyone who tuned into the Live in Front of a Studio Audience earlier this week probably noticed someone was missing. Every surviving member of The Facts of Life cast made an appearance in the one-night revival except for one. Nancy McKeon, who played Jo on the popular 80s sitcom, wasn’t there. Her former cast explained what happened.

Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields all returned for the live event on Tuesday. Jennifer Anniston, Allison Tolman, and Gabrielle Union played Blair, Natalie, and Tootie. Katherine Hahn took over the role of Jo.

Nancy McKeon wanted to reunite with her former The Facts of Life castmates, but it was a bad time for her, Lisa Whelchel told Extra on Wednesday.

“We missed Nancy McKeon,” Whelchel said. “It was sad not to have the four of us together, but it’s always fun. Nancy was home, and they just recently moved, and her kids just got into school. So, it was difficult for her to make the trip out.”

McKeon was there in spirit, though, Whelchel said. She said the cast is still close 37 years after the show ended.

Live in Front of a Studio Audience earned solid reviews from critics. They praised the revival for its ability to nail the comedy of that period. Though Whelchel said the cast producers Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel put together could have made any material work.

Whelchel was especially honored that she got to share the role of Blair with Jennifer Anniston.

“Are you kidding? Jen Aniston would not have had to say one word and I would have been honored that she played the part, but she just killed it — she was amazing,” Whelchel gushed.

Producer: ‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’ Casting Was Critical

Brent Miller, who produced Live in Front of a Studio Audience with Kimmel and Lear, said they wanted to avoid casting for similarities for the revivals of Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life. They didn’t want to try to find someone who looked like Gary Coleman or Todd Bridges. They didn’t care if they looked similar at all.

That’s how we ended up with 61-year-old Damon Wayans playing the teenage brother of Kevin Hart. John Lithgow took over for Conrad Bain and Ann Dowd played Miss Garrett.

All that mattered, Miller told TVLive, was finding the funniest people to play those parts.

“It started with Jimmy [Kimmel] and his desire to have Kevin Hart play Arnold Jackson, the Gary Coleman role,” Miller told TVLine. “He had mentioned it when we were doing our second special, that the third one has to be Kevin Hart. At the time, I didn’t know: Is he going to want to cast everybody old, or is he just going to have the joke be Kevin? But as we started talking through it, it made sense to be consistent with that conceit of having older people play kids.”